Photograph of Sir Richard Wallace, 1857, HHHC 2007.388
Since its opening in June 1900, the Wallace Collection has been regarded as one of the world’s greatest historic house museums. Like a great princely collection, what you see today is the result of five generations of collecting by the same family, from the 1740’s through to Sir Richard Wallace’s death in 1890. Each generation has contributed to the Collection, the 1st Marquess of Hertford with the great Grand Tour showpieces by Canaletto, the 2nd Marquess with British portraits, including Reynolds’ Miss Nelly O’Brien and Gainsborough’s Perdita, and the 3rd Marquess with fine Italianate bronzes, Sèvres porcelain and Dutch and Flemish paintings. Sir Richard Wallace’s father, the 4th Marquess, bought on an enormous scale between 1843 and his death in 1870, and set the tone of the Collection we see today, adding unparalleled 18th-century French paintings, decorative arts, European Old Mastern paintings and important 19th-century paintings from his own lifetime.
When the 4th Marquess died in 1870, he astonished the world by leaving all his unentailed property and his great art collection to the then unknown Richard Wallace. In the years that followed his father’s death, Sir Richard Wallace greatly extended both the size and the chronological range of the collection, with his purchases of medieval and Renaissance works of art, and arguably the finest collection of princely arms and armour in Britain.